There are tons of articles, books and research on how to build a strong team. The amount of information we have access to today can be totally overwhelming. Coaches don’t have time to see it all, hear it all and read it all!

From my experience, it helps to have a team-building framework. This approach allows you to follow some structure yet gives you the freedom and flexibility to adjust things based on the unique personalities and behaviors you see – in the moment – on yourteam.

Here are 5 elements in this framework to consider:

1.  Build Trust

Do teammates trust each other?  It’s not just trusting what another person will do or how they will react in a certain situation. There needs to be an element of vulnerability. It’s being humble enough to tell a teammate, ‘I screwed up,’ ‘I can’t do that’ or ‘I actually need some help.’ This kind of trust is authentic, open and honest.

How do you get there?  
Start by partnering up! Get people talking and learning things about one another – one on one.

Examples:

  • What is something you are proud of that other people may not know?
  • What’s one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your life?
  • Share 3 things about your family: brothers, sisters, mom, dad, grandparents.

Important: Have one person talk, the other person ONLY listens. Encourage them to actively listen with an intention of understanding the other person. Many times people don’t really listen because they are trying to think of how they can add to the conversation. Then switch roles. Do this often!

2.  Engage in conflict

How do you get there?
Introduce your team to the continuum of conflict. On one side there is total agreement on the opposite side is complete destructive conflict. Have discussions where people move closer to the very center – sharing ideas and opinions without crossing over that line to destructive conflict.

Start with those early rumblings of conflict that you start to hear at the beginning of the year – the ticky-tack complaining that drives coaches crazy. Use these as teachable moments. Facilitate a constructive conversation around conflict rather than ignoring it and expecting the team to figure it all out on their own. You can do that later on. Ask the team how this can be applied to other things that will come up throughout the season? Help make it relative to your journey as a team.

Important: Set some ground rules. Make sure all sides are heard. Make the conflict about an idea instead of a person. Allow for a time-out to be called: when and if things cross over the line. It may get uncomfortable. It should!

3.  Make a commitment

The commitment is the buy-in. People need to be willing to give up some of their individual goals for the good of the team. Once they have engaged in conflict and everyone has shared their opinions, then they are usually be more willing to be on board with things and ready to make a commitment. If there hasn’t been any conflict and people aren’t being real or trusting one another then it’s really hard to make a commitment.

How do you get there?  
You sometimes have to work backwards: Find out about the underlying conflicts that people are avoiding. Find out why people don’t trust enough to engage in this conflict.

Define what commitment looks like on your team. Ask them if they are willing to commit? Have team values, team expectations or even a team manifesto printed up for them to sign. Bring this level of commitment to life for your team. Let this be a living document that you revisit early and often as things come up.

4.  Hold each other accountable

Once a commitment has been made, then the next step is holding people accountable. This step can be the most challenging – usually because teams haven’t built enough trust, have avoided conflict, and haven’t really made a commitment. If people have become cynical and just said yes – when they really aren’t – they won’t hold each other accountable. Why should they?

How do you get there?
Define accountability. Give them the language to hold each other accountable. Divide up into groups and give scenarios (or have them come up with their own). Ask how they would specifically hold each other accountable in those different situations. Make it real.

Important: Teach your athletes that each person may have a different way of holding one another accountable – depending on their individual style. And that’s okay!

5.  Get results

If teams have engaged in the first four steps the results will come. Some teams can skip steps and get results; however, the results are usually short term and not long-lasting. For a team to remain strong throughout the ups and downs of the season and still get great results at the end, they need to build a strong foundation.

What do you think? Ask a question or share a comment of how you could use this framework with your team. 


Erica Quam swam for the Indiana University Hoosiers and coached collegiate swimming for 15 years – most recently as the Head Coach at Washington State University. She shifted her focus in 2012 to coaching coaches

Download a free coaching journal template Erica uses with coaches.